We received a letter recently from a pastor’s wife whose words of pain on the page were raw. To say she had been hurt was an understatement. There was anger, bitterness, blame, accusations and hurt. Justified? Probably. Healing? Maybe. Cathartic? I hope so.

Am I alarmed to receive a letter like that? Not in the least. She needs to "get past the past," whether it is what happened in her last church or when she was three years old.

When things in our past remain unresolved, they go with us from relationship to relationship, from church to church, and often we don’t even realize that they’re there.

So, how do we change that?

First, acknowledge that the past exists

From extreme trauma, such as sexual abuse or parental abandonment, to more apparently trivial hurts like being overlooked for sports or having your feelings hurt, we must speak truth and say what we have experienced. We need not say it to everyone (in fact we should not), but we need to tell a trusted friend, prayer partner, counsellor or mentor what has happened to us and how it made us feel. If you try to ignore it, be sure it will sneak up on you and cause more trouble!

Second, identify how the past impacts the present

Whenever we have unresolved hurt, it intrudes into our life in the present. Do you ever notice yourself reacting disproportionately to the current situation? Do you ever wonder why something triggers strong emotions in you? Are there people you find especially difficult to relate to? Do you have fears that seem irrational or unfounded, but don’t go away just because you tell yourself it’s silly? Again, it helps to have a wise companion to help us identify patterns and themes, especially in areas where we sense we are struggling. Ask God to reveal how this is related to what happened in the past. Ask yourself: "Is this about what is happening right now, or does it seem like there is more to this for me?"

Third, deal with the past

We may need to grieve. If our past contains losses (people, goals, dreams, desires, opportunities etc.), we need to acknowledge the pain of those losses before we can let them go. Grieving can be hard work and you may need support as you go about that work. Journalling can be particularly helpful.

We may need to forgive, either someone else or even ourself. Name the sin that has been committed, feel the pain that it caused and bring it to the Cross where Jesus died to forgive sin. Give yourself time: forgiveness can be a process, but work toward releasing yourself from anger, bitterness, blame, sadness or depression through forgiving self and others.

We may need to release it. Sometimes, we must choose by faith to say, "It’s done . . . I am not going to wallow in this anymore." Rituals can help with this. Try writing your painful experience down on paper, then go somewhere special and, with a friend or alone with God, say, "It’s done" and burn or rip or otherwise destroy your paper as a symbol of your release. 

Finally, we may choose to glory in it. God has promised us that where we are weak, He is strong. He can be glorified even through our hardest experiences in life. He can redeem and use for good even what people intended for evil. Let Him use your pain and transformation for His glory. One summer, I experienced the excruciating pain of a miscarriage, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that a half-dozen of my clients that year had also suffered multiple miscarriages. My pain helped me minister to them and I could glory in that (not in my loss).

Finally, move forward with hope and trust

God loves you and desires that you be fruitful. He invites you to run the race with perseverance and promises to be with you always. When you begin to experience some healing, begin to move forward trusting that His arms are there for you if you stumble again. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29) 

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2007 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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